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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7186

Mr SIMPKINS (11:47 AM) —I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009. If members were expecting me to stand up and support this bill then they would certainly be sadly mistaken. I have no intention of speaking on behalf of a measure that I believe weakens the borders of this country and the integrity of the immigration system. I do, however, stand by the decisions and actions of the Howard government in the strengthening of not only our borders but also the integrity of the immigration system. That was a hallmark of that coalition government. There is no doubt that the coalition has always taken a strong stand on border protection and a strong stand against people smuggling and those that attempt to work around the policies of the government of the day with regard to the numbers of refugees and where they come from. I appreciate that on occasion those decisions were not popular, but those decisions by a strong government were important to ensure that it was the government that made those decisions about who came to this country and of course the circumstances under which they came.

In the context of 2009, we currently see Labor’s weak and equivocal border and immigration policies, which have resulted in additional boat traffic coming to Australia. I see this bill, which seeks to remove the possibility of immigration debt, as being from the same policy playbook that took away temporary protection visas and granted legal representation to those in detention. I see these sweeping gestures as recklessly sending the message that we are not hard on illegal immigration as we once were.

To emphasise this point, let us consider the boats that come from Afghanistan. I mean by that those that walk or ride out of Afghanistan, move through a neighbouring country and hop on a plane to fly to Malaysia or Indonesia before travelling on a boat to where they can take another boat from an Indonesian island to Australia. A number of things worry me about that whole business. Firstly, here is a group of men that leave their families behind when they leave their country. They are also a group of men who have decided not to join the fight themselves against the Taliban, choosing instead to leave the fighting to others, including Australian servicemen. They have decided instead to move through a different country, not stopping in Pakistan or elsewhere but buying a ticket for a plane to fly them out. They decide to move on, not settle in that country or even apply for refugee status from that country. They make those decisions in every country they move through and in my view, and many of my constituents’ views, this greatly undermines their claim for legitimacy as refugees.

It is worth contrasting the circumstances of those that travel so far by multiple transport options with the circumstances of those that do not have the money to fly and motor by boat and to pay the smugglers. If you do not have that capacity, you are like the people who languish in the refugee camps on the Thailand border with Burma. Those that languish in those camps are the ones that wait patiently for their opportunity. They are the real thing: they are exactly the sort of people that we should have in this country as refugees. They are the sort of people who are legitimate refugees, such as the Karen people.

The point is that the immigration system must be managed in an orderly manner. The immigration and humanitarian programs must always be controlled, uninfluenced by factors beyond the control of the government of the day. Australia has a proud record of humanitarian resettlement, but the coalition has worked hard to discourage the abuse of the migration program and also to discourage the smugglers of people.

To ensure the ongoing integrity of the immigration system and to make sure that those that languish in refugee camps are resettled promptly, the Liberal and National parties have a history of initiating and managing policies that safeguard the immigration system. The coalition will stand by detention debt. It is part of the stand we make to ensure that the people smugglers do not have any more evidence that the attitude of the Australian government has changed.

It is important to comment upon the outcomes that are to be achieved. As I have stated, we want to be able to maintain complete control over the number of people that come to Australia and to determine where they come from. On this point, I would also say that there are a number of groups that have fitted into Australia very well. This, after all, is a country with Judaeo-Christian values and institutions. Consequently, the measure of success and participation revolves around such principles. I include among those principles democracy, the equality of genders, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association. Religions or peoples that do not agree with such principles are not going to fit in. This is a point worth making, as governments need to plan to have a harmonious society where new arrivals can fit in, not where those who have lived here for longer have to adapt or go out of their way not to offend minority groups.

I hold up the Vietnamese as an example of successful immigration. Fleeing an oppressive regime, the Vietnamese, who are Buddhists and Roman Catholics, came to this country and have been successful. They have worked hard and taken the opportunities that this country has held out to them. Existing Australians did not have to modify our rules or the institutions of our society. Instead, the Vietnamese embraced the opportunities and revelled in the political, social and economic benefits that Australia held out to them—that is one point. On another point, it is vital to discourage people from risking their lives and the lives of their children—from the risk of drowning—by coming here on boats. If they do not believe that jumping the queue will be successful, then they will not take the chance. This will reduce the chances of loss of life.

On another occasion I have stood in this chamber and been heckled by some of those opposite for my views on these matters. I of course have no interest in saying what they want me to say or what others think I should say; I take these opportunities to say what needs to be said. The reality is that this chamber is dominated by the populous states of the eastern seaboard—it is dominated by members representing electorates in states like New South Wales and Victoria. As representatives of inner city seats in particular, they reflect the views of their constituents, who will never see a boat landing on the shores of their state. Hobby issues abound in these places among people who are sufficiently comfortable in their secure existences and who will never have to confront the realities of what is happening in the bigger states.

That being said, there is some support for this bill across the political spectrum and across the nation, but I utterly refute the suggestion that the bill has comprehensive support amongst the Australian people. Indeed, if the many people of the Cowan electorate who have approached me over recent months are representative of the nation, I am not only comfortable with but completely confident in standing against this bill. There is no doubt that the subject of queue-jumping people—boat people—is raised with me regularly, but, consistent with the issue concerning this bill, the other great concern in my electorate is accountability. By that I mean, for example, that, when my constituents speak to me of the outcomes stemming from crime, they want offenders to be accountable for their actions. Consistent with that theme, the same level of accountability is also required of the people in the boats, who jump the queues. If you do the wrong thing, you should expect a consequence. The ability to impose a debt for and in conjunction with detention is an important tool in deterring illegal immigrants. The removal of that capacity is nothing more than a further encouragement to those who wish to sidestep our rules and policies, stepping into the queue in front of those who are in circumstances of desperation in refugee camps.

Those who say that our position is all about punishing refugees and loading them with debt are incorrect in such an assertion. There is no proposal to impose a debt on those found to be genuine refugees. As all members are aware, the bills for genuine refugees are waived. My personal view is that more could be done to recover the costs of detention, particularly through recovery plans. Therefore, it is my contention that the teeth need to be sharpened on the existing arrangements regarding detention debt.

For those who have been listening to what I have said and for those who might choose in the future to check out what I said, I am certainly very keen that it be understood how clear I am on this matter. It is my view that detention debt needs to be maintained and that the arrangements for border control and immigration integrity need to be restored to what existed under the last coalition government. In those days, everyone knew where they stood. The smugglers and their clients knew the risks, they knew the costs and they knew that the government of Australia under John Howard did have tough borders and controls in place.

To further make clear my position on matters related to this: I am not against refugees being resettled in Australia. We should do our bit. We know that there have been success stories in the past and that there will be more in the future. I see that immigration has been at its most successful when those that have come as individuals or groups have fitted into our society. The values and institutions of our society are consistent with Christianity, with Buddhism and with those religions and faiths that recognise democracy, equality of the genders and freedom of religion.

I make this emphasis: this is a great country that has always stood up for the weak, the defenceless and the besieged. The strength of our country is in our traditions, our institutions and our values. The will of our country to act when the hard decisions need to be made comes from what I believe is a collective faith in the great Australian culture. It is a majority culture that is always grounded in a belief that the democratic tradition is supreme. I believe that this majority culture will forever be guided only by our secular laws. It is a majority culture that supports those who aspire to improve themselves while also being there to support those who need it and cannot provide for themselves. It is a majority culture that has a strong belief in the principle of personal responsibility and that all citizens and residents have rights but never without responsibilities. This country has a majority culture of Judaeo-Christian values. There is nothing wrong with this and nothing to be apologised for.

Given my views, it is my belief that refugees from Burma, including its ethnic minorities, are likely to fit and have already fitted into this country very well. In the electorate of Cowan, there are many Burmese, including Karen and other ethnic minorities from Burma, who have adapted to life in Australia and are doing well. As I said previously, the Vietnamese have also prospered. They came out from under the yoke of an oppressive regime, came to live under the freedom offered by this country and have prospered through the opportunities made available. I have travelled to Vietnam and I therefore appreciate the difference between what the Vietnamese characteristic of hard work can achieve in Australia and how the potential of the Vietnamese people is being held back in their homeland.

I would now like to turn my attention to the closely related matter of citizenship. The former Prime Minister was much maligned for the citizenship test, yet as members of parliament we know what happens at citizenship ceremonies. When some people take the oath or affirmation, sometimes they do not speak the words and sometimes, by the look on their faces, we cannot be sure that they actually comprehend the commitment they are making. I think that by having such a test and training we can ensure that new citizens understand that they not only have the rights that come with being an Australian citizen but also have the responsibilities.

By responsibilities I include the need to follow the laws of this country. That is very important. Members of this parliament would be aware that noncitizens, if they commit crimes with certain penalties, can be deported after serving their sentence. I personally favour an extension of that capacity. This is my personal opinion. Those who have dual citizenship, taking our citizenship as their second nation, should also be exposed to the removal of our citizenship if they commit such crimes. True accountability would therefore be achieved and it would be a powerful incentive for those with dual citizenship to act lawfully at all times. I emphasise that this is a personal view, at the risk of being attacked by the government and the Labor Party, who are the party of conformity and the crushing of dissent and, by consequence, free thought.

I have ranged somewhat widely in this debate; however, I have been very clear on my views on this bill and the damage that I believe it will cause to the integrity of the immigration system. I do not believe that further weakening of the immigration laws will have any more effect than sending a message of having a softer border to those who seek to benefit. I believe in stronger borders but I also believe in the acceptance of refugees. I believe in powerful deterrents but as a means to preserve our borders, to maintain control of our immigration and to ensure that people who think of jumping the queue believe that the risks, including that of drowning, are too great and therefore decide not to take that course of action. Above all, I believe in maintaining detention debt and the raft of features of the former coalition government’s immigration measures to ensure that we will forever decide who comes here and the circumstances in which they come.